Patriot Freight Group

What Is a Reefer Truck? Your Complete Guide

Are you looking for an efficient way to transport perishable items to your customers? A reefer truck, also known as a refrigerated truck, may be your solution.

The U.S. market for reefer trucks is anticipated to grow by over 4% between 2023 and 2028 due to the demand for these vehicles in agriculture and pharmaceuticals.

How exactly do reefer trucks work? Let’s examine reefer trucking and how refrigerated trucking can benefit you.

Reefer Truck: What Is It?

Reefer trucks are temperature-controlled semi-trucks with refrigerated trailers used for transporting refrigerated, perishable, and frozen goods. They offer a reliable and safe way to move temperature-sensitive commodities.

These trucks can maintain a temperature of between -20 degrees and 20 degrees Celsius. This makes them perfect for transporting products such as beverages and food, as well as pharmaceutical items.

Reefer trucks are used to transport hazardous materials as well. These materials include radioactive substances and medical waste.

Reefer trucks use various cooling techniques to keep perishable commodities’ temperatures consistent throughout their journeys.

For instance, diesel-powered, battery-powered, or electricity-powered generators power some of these trucks’ refrigeration units. Alternatively, you might find a truck that uses a cryogenic cooling system.

These trucks’ temperatures may furthermore be changed to allow for the transport of hot cargo.

In cold weather, a reefer trailer can work like a heater to keep cargo warm during transit. This will prevent freezing and temperature damage to various products. These products include sensitive electronics. They also include chemicals, alcohol, and some foods.

However, reefer trucks are mostly used for moving cold cargo.

Whether you’re moving hot or cold cargo, reefer trucking is complex because of the loads’ sensitivity to temperature. That’s why it’s wise to choose an experienced reefer truck operator for your cargo.

Reefer Truck’s Key Systems

Reefer trucks come with three important systems.

First, they come with compartments that keep commodities’ humidity levels and temperatures consistent during their journeys.

Second, they feature temperature alarms. A truck’s alarm will let the driver know if their cargo’s temperature goes above or below their target range.

Third, reefer trucks come with systems that help drivers to monitor their cargo’s temperature.

Reefer Truck’s Key Components and Process

Reefer trucks’ major systems include several important components. These include compressors and condensers. They also include evaporators and insulation.

The Compressor

The compressor is usually attached to the truck’s engine. It has a vehicle belt and tiny motor that bring in and compress a gaseous refrigerant. This powers the reefer truck.

The refrigerant is a cool, low-pressure fluid when it goes into the system. However, it’s a hot, high-pressure gas when the refrigerant leaves the system.

The Condenser

After the high-pressure gas enters the condenser coils after leaving the compressor. Fans then cool the gas, causing it to lose heat. Afterward, the condenser creates gas using the lost heat.

The gas in the condenser then turns into a regular-temperature, high-pressure liquid.

The heat exchange that occurs in the truck’s condenser is similar to what happens when a radiator cools an engine.

The Expansion Valve

This valve controls how the refrigerant flows throughout the reefer truck’s system. When it restricts the refrigerant’s flow, it creates a cold, low-pressure liquid.

The Evaporator

The evaporator, which has a fan, is located in the cargo area. It turns the low-pressure refrigerant into a low-pressure, low-temperature gas.

The fan draws the refrigerant from the truck’s cargo space and sends it through fins and coils. The refrigerant then boils and becomes a gas.

After the system has reached the target temperature, this gas returns to the truck’s compressor. The process then restarts to keep the truck and cargo chilled for a few days.

The Insulation

Insulation is another important component of a reefer truck. The insulation is a polyurethane foam layer that protects the truck’s inside area from the outdoor environment.

The Air Chute

Every reefer truck also comes with a flexible air duct. This air chute is usually connected to the truck’s refrigeration unit. It runs along the truck’s top side.

The air chute helps to ensure the uniform distribution of cooled air throughout the truck.

Reefer Truck Variations

Reefer trucks are available in multiple forms. Let’s take a look at them.

Refrigerated Trucks

A common form is a single-temperature reefer, which you can use to keep your cargo at a certain temperature throughout your journey.

You may also use a multi-temperature reefer, which can maintain your commodities at several temperatures during your journey. This will allow you to transport several temperature-sensitive goods at once.

A hybrid reefer is the best option for maintaining both multiple and single temperatures.

Refrigerated Vans

Another reefer truck option is a refrigerated van, which is a smaller refrigerated truck.

Unlike refrigerated semi-trucks, vans are only ventilated and insulated. Their cooling systems are active. Meanwhile, the ones used in refrigerated semi-trucks are called passive systems.

A refrigerated van is perfect for transporting a smaller shipment of perishable products.

For instance, you may choose this option to transport a few frozen food pallets. Meanwhile, a semi-truck is the best choice for moving a large pharmaceutical shipment.

Reefer Truck Benefits

A major benefit of reefer trucks is that they are constantly in demand. That means you shouldn’t have a problem finding one to deliver your fresh goods when you need to.

It’s easier for reefer trucking to bounce back from economic challenges compared with other transport methods. This is because medicines, drinks, and foods remain in high demand even during economic crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why reefer trucks are consistently available.

Reefer trucks will also protect your cargo against the elements. Your commodities can reach their destination intact no matter what the weather conditions are during their journey.

These trucks will safeguard your goods from spoilage, theft, and potential damage.

In addition, perhaps you have some items that need to be chilled. You also have some that don’t need to stay cold but are still temperature-sensitive. Both can conveniently go on a single reefer truck.

Another benefit of using a reefer truck is that the process of unloading and loading them is usually well-organized. That’s because these trucks frequently go to food processing, distribution, and grocery centers.

These organizations handle several thousand pounds of goods daily. This means transporting your goods to or from these places can be a stress-free, easy experience.

Reefer Truck Drawbacks

The main disadvantage of a reefer truck is that it can sometimes be noisy.

In addition, unloading and loading perishable goods on a cargo dock to go on a reefer truck can be a long process. That’s because loading temperature-controlled items takes longer than loading goods that aren’t temperature-sensitive.

The drivers must first ensure their trailers are at the proper temperatures. Only then should the cargo be loaded at their pickup locations.

The manager of the dock where the freight is being loaded should test the reefer truck’s temperature to verify this. If the driver forgot to pre-cool their truck, this will make the loading time longer.

Also, groceries are usually transported on smaller crates or skids, which can take more time to load. The same is true for dangerous chemicals. Fragile items, like eggs or beer cases, may furthermore take time to load. 

However, the many benefits of reefer trucks generally outweigh their drawbacks.

Transporting Reefer Freight: Best Practices

Reputable owners and drivers of reefer trucks follow a few important steps when transporting goods in their trucks. Let’s explore their best practices.

Identifying Temperature Requirements

A reliable reefer truck driver will find out a load’s temperature requirements in advance.

For instance, they’ll find out if the load you want to transport is completely frozen or refrigerated. Or should maintaining heat be their priority?

Tell the driver your cargo’s ideal temperature range beforehand so that they can program their unit accordingly and pre-cool the trailer. This will allow the trailer to reach its ideal temperature before your cargo is ready for loading.

A quality driver will also ask you if the goods you’re transporting are perishable. This is important because the company receiving your goods may not accept them if they are too close to their expiration dates. Verifying this will save both you and the driver time and money.

Rapid Unloading and Loading

The best reefer truck operators understand how to manage fragile cargo while still being safe, quick, and efficient.

If a reefer truck’s doors stay open for a long time, it will be harder for the driver to maintain the proper operating temperature. So, verify that your load is ready for transport before the driver opens their doors.

Careful Shipment Monitoring

The driver responsible for your cargo should be used to checking their truck’s temperature gauges and monitoring systems constantly. These systems will them what the cargo’s temperature is at all times.

These tools should be used before shipment, during shipment, and after shipment to make sure that the freight remains in the proper temperature zone.

Common Upgrades Made to Reefer Trucks

Some reefer trucks today come with a few handy upgrades.

For instance, the temperature monitoring system we mentioned earlier does more than ensure precise temperature control. It can also improve the truck’s fuel efficiency.

The reefer truck used to transport your goods may also feature a GPS tracking system. This system makes it easier to accurately track a truck’s cargo and location.

The best reefer trucks also come with an automated temperature and humidity control system. This can increase the trucks’ fuel efficiency and temperature control.

Refrigerated trucks may feature refrigerant systems as well. These systems can reduce emissions. They can also improve the trucks’ fuel efficiency. 

Reefer Trucking’s Energy Efficiency

Some refrigerated trucks are now powered by renewable energy, like solar power, rather than diesel. You may also find trucks that use eco-friendly refrigerants.

These technological advancements in refrigerated trucking technology can further improve reefer trucks’ fuel efficiency. They can also help with maintaining an accurate cargo temperature. 

Reefer Truck Maintenance Advice

Reefer trucks usually aren’t considered aged until after eight years, or 40,000 hours. However, a reefer truck may last longer if it is well-maintained.

For instance, to keep their cooling units in good condition, reefer truck owners should make sure their trucks have ample fluids. These include Freon and oil, for example.

Reefer truck drivers should also inspect their hoses. This will help them to maintain their cooling and heating systems. If they don’t do this, they could lose their loads.

Additional Reefer Trucking Maintenance Tips

Reefer trucks should ideally undergo thorough cleanings regularly. In addition, the owners of these trucks should wash them out before loading them. This will prevent pollution from prior loads from contaminating future loads.

The owners of these trucks must also inspect them regularly to make sure that they maintain the necessary temperatures for moving food safely.

In addition, reefer truck owners should maintain records of written policies, instructions, maintenance, and contracts related to their trucks.

How We Can Help with Your Trucking Needs

A reefer truck can help you transport perishable goods over several days. These goods range from pharmaceuticals to beverages and food. In addition to keeping your cargo cold, the truck will shield them against the elements.

At Patriot Freight Group, we offer high-quality reefer truck transporting services. We strive to deliver our customers’ cargo as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. Let us provide you with the perfect solution for your needs.

Get in touch with us to learn more about our services, and get a free quote today!